Pain medication is prescribed for a variety of reasons. Maybe you have hurt your back at work or you have suffered from frequent headaches. But at some point, the need to take your painkillers has stopped being about the pain, it has become an addiction. But what happens to your brain when you take your painkillers? At Findlay Recovery, we understand how difficult it can be to recognize addiction.

How Your Brain Works

Your brain is your everything. It holds all of your memories, organises your life experiences, and regulates your body at an unconscious level. Without your brain, you would not exist. All of this information is packed inside yourself and held between the folds of the various cortexes. Every day, the world of science is discovering something new about the brain and how we process information. You only need to look at the wealth of information out there and self-help books to see how we are determined to make sense of our brains. 

However, the brain is not the only thing responsible for our life experiences. Our central nervous system plays a major part in how we experience the world around us by providing sensations such as hot and cold, touch, pleasure and pain. All of these things work together to give our lives a colourful experience.

Opioids And How It Impacts Your Brain

Every time you take a drink of alcohol or a painkiller known as an opioid, it enters your brain’s reward center. It is in the reward center that the brain releases dopamine. As a result, you may experience a feeling of intense pleasure. This is the opioid going to work at the connections in your brain and blocking pain receptors. There are several areas of the brain that opioids affect the most, they are:

The cerebral cortex – You may have heard of the “grey matter” in your brain and that is what the cerebral cortex is. This sheet of neutral tissue has up to six layers of nerve tissue. Between 14 and 16 billion neurons can be found in the cerebral cortex. You may have seen a picture of a brain and noticed the curves and grooves along the surface. These grooves have caused the brain to fold over on itself, giving more surface area that can be packed into a small space. If you unfolded the cerebral cortex, it would stretch out for several meters.

The brainstem – Located at the back of the skull, this part of the brain structure connects the brain with the spine and central nervous system. The job of the brainstem is to regulate all of your automatic functions including your heartbeat and breathing. Every time you ingest an opioid, as the chemicals flood your brain, your heart rate and your breathing slows. This can have a very calming effect but repeated use can cause your heart and lungs to stop working, causing death.

The limbic system – Tucked deep down in the middle of your brain between the cerebral cortex and the brainstem is the limbic system. This system is responsible for your behavior and emotions. Two of the major pieces of the limbic system are the hippocampus and amygdala. The hippocampus is shaped like a seahorse and is responsible for memories. The amygdala is shaped like an almond and can be found next to the hippocampus. When you take opioids, the limbic system is affected in a way that causes us to behave differently. They can also affect our memories so you may not remember what you have done when you take any opioids.

What To Expect When You Stop Taking Pain Medication?

As your brain is in charge of all of your bodily functions, you will experience full-body symptoms. Your heart rate will quicken and blood pressure will rise. Mental side effects can include anxiety and difficulty managing your emotions. In some extreme cases, you may experience hallucinations and seizures. Unfortunately, you never know how your body will react to withdrawal which is why you may need to consider staying at a rehabilitation center as your body and brain detoxes. Opioid addiction can be difficult to kick, especially if you originally used the drugs to control chronic pain. We aim to help you through the process with a plan tailored to you and your needs. When you are ready to take the next steps in your recovery process, contact us and our staff can talk you through our next steps to helping you.

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